Making Headlines

Hi there.  If this is your first time here, then welcome to the Penny University blog.  If you’ve been here before, well then welcome back!  It has been just over a week since we released the Penny University website and the response so far has been great.  In the same time, the University of Sheffield has picked up the story of my I’m a Scientist, In the Zone win and have been helping me along with some great publicity by featuring me on the website!  At the moment the story is featured on the University news-in-brief section and the Department of Archaeology news section.  You can find these wesbsites by clicking through the thumbnails images below.

Alison Atkin featured on the University news in brief website.

Alison Atkin featured on the Department of Archaeology news website.

The story has also been sent to local and regional press, so if we make it into any of those I will be sure to post an update.

This week, while I was in contact with the press office at the University… of Sheffield (gee, it can get confusing with all of the universities involved in this post, although I am pretty certain you figured out which one I meant based on context, since Penny University doesn’t have a press office – other than me in my back room) one of their staff members pointed out an unintended link between the name I have chosen for this podcast and website and the University of Sheffield.  I really should have picked up on this, since I know my University history, but somehow it slipped through the gaps in my grey-matter.  What is the link you ask?

Well, the University of Sheffield is actually sometimes referred to as the Penny University!  This nickname comes from the origin of the University, which was founded with donations of pennies from the local steel and factory workers.  The aspiration was to establish a University that would benefit all members of society.  There is a great publicity poster from the campaign for a University charter, which sets out their intentions.  It reads:

The Proposed University Building

You should support the University because:

  1. The UNIVERSITY will be for the people.
  2. The UNIVERSITY will bring the highest education within the reach of the child of the working man.
  3. The UNIVERSITY will help the local industries.
  4. The UNIVERSITY will be at the centre where the treatment of accidents and diseases will be studied.
  5. SHEFFIELD is the only large City in England without a University.  Sheffield cannot afford to remain in this position.
  6. The UNIVERSITY will not only benefit this district, it will assist the nation in its trade competition with other nations.

Ask at your works or shop for a copy of the Pamphlet on the University Movement.

You can see a copy of the original poster below (click to embiggen).  And if you’re interested in the subject you can read more about the University of Sheffield and its penny origins here.

The original campaign poster for the University of Sheffield.I think this movement really embodied a ‘modern’ (late 19thth century) version of the penny universities from the 18th century, which this Penny University is named after; a place of learning open to absolutely everyone, with hopes of benefitting as many people as possible!  It is wonderful to be a part of the continual re-establishment and re-invention of the ideals set out, first in the original penny universities and then again in a ‘real’ Penny University.  I can only imagine what the people of yesteryear would say if they knew of the resources used by people today to passionately share their love of knowledge on such an enormous variety of subjects.  I believe that the men in powdered wigs, the ladies in their corsets, and the paperboys in their scruffy caps (and the steel workers in their overalls, the women in their handmade dresses, and the children in their school socks) would have taken to the internet with such delightful fervour that the incredible sensation of mental stimulation previously only experienced by the novelty of coffee would have paled in comparison.

If you would like to use some of these exciting new communication methods of which I speak, you can follow us on Twitter using @penny_show.  We are actively using our Twitter account to post interesting science links, so if you’re into that sort of thing (which, I assume, you must be, since you’re here) then check it out!  [If you think we ought to have a Facebook page too, let us know by getting in touch, via Twitter, e-mail, or leaving a comment below and we shall oblige.]

As a new project it is important that we spread the word of Penny University to ensure we have a good audience for when we release our first podcast this Autumn.  In the original penny universities reporters called ‘runners’ used to go from coffee house to coffee house spreading the latest news.  To honour this, we are going to start up our very own track team and if you would like to ‘run’ for Penny University you can do a few things to earn your spot: share our website to people you think might be interested in the show, contact us with exciting new science stories you think we should post, suggest a researcher to interview for an episode, or let us know if you would like your research featured on the programme.  If you’ve got your own website, we’ll even send you a personalised banner that let’s everyone know you’re on the Penny University track team, which you can use to link through to us if you like (or you can just use it to show off your academic-activeness).  You can check it out in the sidebar (oh, yes, we’re getting fancy now) and let us know what you think of the design!  We’ll also feature all of the members of the Penny University track team on the ‘runners‘ section of our website.

I really ought to wrap this up now, before you all get bored from too much learning (I have heard that this can happen, although I have never experienced the sensation myself).  Once again, thank you for taking the time to visit Penny University.  We’ll be in touch again soon, but until then remember: “Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” – Plato

Breaking Ground

Hello and welcome to the first ever blog post on Penny University.  We are just breaking ground on this new project and would like to invite you to have a look around the website.  We’re still under construction, but the basic structure has already been built (well, we have a name and a logo, which I think is a pretty good starting point).  As we approach the grand opening this Autumn, we’ll be adding new information to the website, so try not to be surprised if you see a few changes every now and then.

I want to start this project off, by extending my warmest thanks to everyone over at I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here; staff, teachers, and of course the students!  I am very happy and incredibly proud to have been voted winner of the 7-11 zone in the Wellcome Trust’s In the Zone event.  Over a period of ten weeks, forty scientists participated in over 115 live-chats with more than 1600 students from a number of schools across the UK – and answered over 1700 questions on topics ranging from the tiniest cells in the human body to the largest features of the universe!  It was an incredible opportunity and definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in science engagement.  I encourage you to take some time to visit their website and discover all of the amazing, insightful, and unusual curiosity-driven questions from the students I had the pleasure to interact with over the last few months.

Now, as a winner of I’m a Scientist I am lucky to be given £500 to spend on science engagement.  Past winners have done everything from produce short films about scientists and their lives (both inside and outside the labs) to writing books on specialist science subjects for schools.  I decided that with my prize money I wanted to create an online science podcast, as a way of engaging people with science, whether it is kids or adults – and regardless of whether they have absolutely no experience in science or they are conducting advanced scientific experiments in a state-of-the-art laboratories.  The aim of this project to create a show that will be accessible to anyone and everyone who listens, whether we’re mastering mathematics or studying sociology with our featured researchers.

Over the next few weeks and months we’ll be preparing for the launch of Penny University: buying the necessary equipment and software, organising the schedule of featured researchers, recording interviews for our first few episodes, and promoting our website far-and-wide across the internet.  As a special ‘nod of thanks’ to I’m a Scientist and all the students who voted for me to win, our very first episode will feature questions from the students who took part in the event.  But in order to keep Penny University up and running if you have a burning question you want answered, know of an exciting recent discovery in science, or are a scientist who would like your research featured on the show then we would love to hear from you, as we’ll be trying to use as many audience suggestions as possible in future episodes.

Thank you so much for visiting our website and for supporting us in the early days of this project.  I am already excited for the day we release the first episode of Penny University and I hope that all of you are too.  I will post here with any interesting updates in the lead up to our launch, so until next time, remember: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.  The important thing is to not stop questioning.” ― Albert Einstein